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Mythological stories

    Folk stories about supernatural mythological characters form an essential layer of folk culture of the peasants of Desna River and Bolva River Basin. According to peasants' creative imagination, nearby forests are inhabited by forest nymphs; in peasants' houses there live house-spirits; bath-houses are populated by demons. Certainly not all people have faith in such beliefs, but everybody will tell you with pleasure a story, which has happened to himself, or to his relative, or to his friend.A healer Tatiana Andreevna Gudkova (1909-1996) (Kaluga province). Photo Yelena Minyonok

The system of mythological characters is full of discrepancies. For example, a forest nymph is interpreted very differently in various villages, which are not too far from each other (2 to 4 miles). In some of them a nymph is a harmless creature, neutral to a human being. In other villages she is a magic forest girl who can demonstrate peculiar abilities and knowledge. Sometimes a nymph can be interpreted as a witch who takes away the vital power from rye and leaves people without harvest). Our goal is to collect as much detailed information as possible about the nature (set of characteristic functions) and the appearance of each mythological character. The most important factor for us is to reveal 'transitional' forms of such characters.

JESUS CHRIST (Iisus Khristos) threw the Devil in a bog; divided animals into divine and devilish; took away people's knowledge of the exact time of their death; punished communists for destruction of churches, etc.

THE VIRGIN (Bogoroditsa) helps during childbirth; weeps for our sins; intercedes for

SAINT NICOLA (Svyatoi Nikolai-ugodnik) helps travelers;An icon of Saint Nicola (Kaluga province). Photo Michael Dennis

SAINT GEORGE (Svyatoi Georgii) - helps soldiers; conquers snakes, protects cattle from wolves; can transform in a wolf or be a King of wolves, etc.

SAINT IL'YA (Svyatoi Il'ia) sends rains on earth; throws lightning at demons, etc.

HOUSE-SPIRIT (Domovoi) brings luck to the owner of the house; takes vengeance against the owner of the house if he does not take him to a new house; shows himself as a small old man, as a grass-snake, or as a weasel; appears to the owner of the house prior to misfortune, etc.

YARD-SPIRIT (Dvorovoi) looks after the livestock if he likes the color of the cow's hair or coat of a horse; harasses the cattle if he does not like, etc.

FOREST-SPIRIT (Leshii) laughs boisterously in the forest; invisible himself, he leads people to make them get lost; shows himself to a peasant before a misfortune; takes away children from those parents who swear at them, etc.

FOREST NYMPHS (Rusalki) swing on birch branches during Whitsuntide; spin-skilled. Nymphs may spoil a harvest or tickle men to death. Even now peasants of the Southwestern villages think that if anybody gives clothes to a nymph (folk beliefs tell that a forest nymph is naked and that the only "clothing" she wears is her long, ankle-length black or green hair), she will in gratitude endow this person with health, riches, happiness in marriage, or with magic power to treat othersA lime-tree where witches get together for a Sabbath with a top cut by lightning (Kaluga province). Photo Yelena Minyonok

WITCH (Ved'ma) damages people and cattle; spoils a harvest; flies on a broom; all witches get together for witches' Sabbath on certain days; can transform into a cat, a pig, a frog, etc.; can not die unless she transmits her 'witch power' to someone else, etc. In every village someone can show you a lime-tree or a pine where witches get together for a Sabbath in the full moon.

DEMONS (Cherti) punish those people who wash in bath-houses at night; substitute a log for a child if parents swear at the child; play tricks on drunk men; etc.

Video recording of mythological stories' performance preserves for world culture authentic image of the folk narrator, whose artistic consciousness still continues creating a mysterious world of forest-spirits, forest nymphs, house-spirits and sorcerers at the time of high technology and exploration of space.

Video records preserve the whole complex of performer's expressive means, such as picturesque speech, intonations, facial expression and gesticulation. All those demonstrate the high aesthetics of folk art. Without those, the folk mythological story becomes a short, difficult to understand text about improved events. And it is perceived as an idle invention at best. The living words of a true folk artist should be video recorded as an outstanding theater performance.

 

 

 

Partners:

University of Virginia Slavic Languages & Literatures Dept.Dr. Natalie Kononenko

University of Wisconsin Dr. James Bailey

University of Colorado   at Boulder Dept. of Germanic and Slavic Languages & Lits Dr._ Laura J. Olson 

Slavic and East European Folklore Association (SEEFA)

University of Kentucky Russian and Eastern Studies and Linguistics Dr. J.Rouhier- Willoughby

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Copyright 2001 Russian Folklore Expedition
Last modified: 09.27.2002